But the Squire’s coming escapade! How to stop it?—for Desmond’s sake chiefly.
Dear boy! It was on a tender, almost maternal thought of him that she at last turned to sleep. But the footstep pursued her ear. What was the meaning of this long nocturnal pacing? Had the Squire, after all, a heart, or some fragment of one? Was it the parting from Desmond that thus kept him from his bed? She would have liked to think it—but did not quite succeed!
A week or two had passed.
The Squire was on his way to inspect his main preparations for the battle at the park gates, which he expected on the morrow. He had been out before breakfast that morning, on horseback, with one of the gardeners, to see that all the gates on the estate, except the Chetworth gate, were locked and padlocked. For the Chetworth gate, which adjoined the land to be attacked, more serious defences were in progress.
All his attempts to embarrass the action of the Committee had been so far vain. The alternatives he had proposed had been refused. Fifty acres at the Chetworth end of Mannering Park, besides goodly slices elsewhere, the County Committee meant to have. As the Squire would not plough them himself, and as the season was advancing, he had been peremptorily informed that the motor plough belonging to the County Committee would be sent over on such a day, with so many men, to do the work; the land had been surveyed; no damage would be done to the normal state of the property that could be avoided; et cetera.
So the crisis was at hand. The Squire felt battle in his blood.
As he walked along through his domain, exhilarated by the bright frosty morning, and swinging his stick like a boy, he was in the true Quixotic mood, ready to tilt at any wind-mill in his path. The state of the country, the state of the war, the state of his own affairs, had produced in him a final ferment of resentment and disgust which might explode in any folly.
Why not go to prison? He thought he could bear it. A man must stand by his opinions—even through sacrifice. It would startle the public into attention. Such outrages on the freedom, on the ancient rights of Englishmen, must not pass without protest. Yes—he felt it in him to be a martyr! They would hardly refuse him a pocket Homer in prison.
What, a month? Three weeks, in actual practice. Luckily he cared nothing at all about food—though he refused to be rationed by a despotic Government. On a handful of dates and a bit of coarse bread he had passed many a day of hard work when he was excavating in the East. One can always starve—for a purpose! The Squire conceived himself as out for Magna Charta—the root principles of British liberty. As for those chattering fellows of the Labour Party, let them conquer England if they could. While the Government ploughed up his land without leave, the Socialists would strip him of it altogether. Well, nothing for it but to fight! If one went down, one went down—but at least honourably.